The court statistics quarterly is out for the last quarter of 2012.
Only 8% of financial applications remained contested throughout the case. I wonder how that figure will alter now that there is no more legal aid and more mediation?
I’ve heard many a lawyer say “Even I couldn’t afford to pay me”.
Well hang on a minute, if that’s true then we’re doing something wrong here. I have a service to sell and it’s no use at all if no one can afford to buy it – no matter how good I am at what I do.
We have lowered our charges to coincide with the reforms to the legal aid system today.
For the last 18 months we’ve been monitoring and preparing for the changes to access to legal services in family law. We realised fairly early on that wholesale changes would have to be made for the ordinary man or woman in the street to continue to be able to use a solicitor to access legal advice – with or without the changes to legal aid.
We’ve all felt the pinch over the last year or two. The cost of heating and lighting our homes has risen dramatically. Food prices are higher. The cost of borrowing hasn’t just risen, it has become almost impossible to arrange a mortgage without a sizeable deposit, which means making savings everywhere you can.
And the knock on effect is that people just don’t have spare money to spend on legal services no matter how much they may need or want them.
So I want to look at why legal advice costs so much and what we have done to address that and bring our charges down.
Legal advice is a personal service usually. You tend to see a solicitor one to one, explain your problem and pay for the time it takes to listen to you and give you a range of possible solutions. But don’t be under the illusion that the lawyer pockets the whole of the hourly fee.
An hour with a solicitor includes paying for premises, professional indemnity insurance, ongoing mandatory annual training, telephone support, administrative support, advertising, mandatory membership fees for the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority and any other subscription such as Resolution the solicitors family law association.
All of the above is included in the hourly rate you are charged.
When you go into a shop to buy a pint of milk, say, the general overheads of that shop are shared between you and everyone else who is in there buying something. If you were only allowed in one at a time (and maybe took a little while to decide what you wanted) you might start to find that your pint of milk became unaffordable as well.
So how have we addressed the first problem – the cost of general overheads? Well we have started to work in an open plan space which is far cheaper for us and means we can pass on this saving to our hourly rates.
Instead of working from expensive offices we have moved off site to cheaper premises, and now when we see a client we book a meeting room for that hour or two which is cheaper for us than maintaining a full time office space in the same plush building.
We have begun making far better use of email so that we cut down on our stationery bills. We scan rather than photocopy where we can. We scan archive files rather than pay for expensive document storage facilities (we have to keep your file for at least 6 years after your case ends).
We don’t employ secretaries any more. If we have a large amount of typing we have this done by a legal transcription service. Otherwise we type our own emails and forms. This is our biggest saving but not without its own issues. It can result in us being slower to respond occasionally. I personally type pretty quickly now but not as fast as I can dictate.
Instead of giving the same advice repeatedly in letters we have general advice on our website and we refer people back to this to refresh their memories of what we have told them. This saves us time and is just one example of how the internet and technology can help bring the cost of legal advice down – leaving us free to deal with the issues that are more personal just to you and need our one to one attention.
We make use of cheaper online training programmes such as that offered by family law week as well as the minimum face to face training we have to have every year.
We keep our insurance as low as we can by not making mistakes and by publishing our fees and our terms of engagement and thus not having complaints made against us!
We’re doing what we can and we have plans to do a lot more with online tutorials and workshops over the coming months.
And from today the fees we charge reflect the work done together by a legal executive and a solicitor on a case to further help spread the cost.
Our new rates are being piloted for 6 months. On 1st October 2013 we will report back on whether the new rates have proved a success and will be continued for new business after that date.
All clients who have asked us to do work for them between today and 1st October 2013 inclusive will be charged at our lower rates to the conclusion of their case.
For more information on our pilot fee scheme see here.
The problem is that there are too many lawyers and not as many people getting divorced or going to court.
There are lots of reasons for this – the economic crisis combined with greater availability of free advice and legal information on the internet and the increasing popularity of alternative dispute resolution methods such as family mediation.
Plenty of reasons but only one outcome. Not as much work to go round for the lawyers – and it’s starting to look like a bunfight.
Until very recently, if you wanted a divorce you made an appointment at your local law firm to see a solicitor. Not a barrister. Not a bank either. And certainly not a computer. All that is changing. There’s been some competition from cheap, unregulated services for several years but whilst legal aid still existed most law firms weren’t really feeling much impact from this.
Now, however, the banks/supermarkets are introducing their own legal services and, much as they did with insurance, are using their marketing might to draw in customers.
Solicitors still have more experience of the divorce process than any other profession in the last 100 years. But the new entrants to the legal services market will divert attention from their own inexperience by addressing the biggest problem for the consumer – the cost.
Quite simply the only way to keep family cases streamlined, low cost and straightforward enough for a paralegal to deal with (“managed” by a solicitor) is to keep them out of court.
This is not personal injury. This is not “no win no fee”. There is no more legal aid. Real people earning minimum wage upwards will need to be able to access straightforward legal services. And it must be affordable. The challenge is going to be how to offer that.
The overwhelming majority of family law specialists are in small high street law firms. Marketing budgets are not significant. In fact resources all round are usually fairly paltry. Firms are bottom heavy with too many support staff and too few fee earners to pay the high overheads to maintain high street offices and still offer low fees to the client. Clients want the service but don’t want to pay through the nose for it.
It isn’t just the small firms experiencing the squeeze either. The big firms are looking a bit shaky as well. Blakemores are the latest in line to get into difficulty. Cobbetts and Halliwells have already gone under.
The internet is frankly awash at the moment with lawyers’ websites claiming to be able to do it better and cheaper than anyone else. And it is pretty hard to differentiate between the many different options, both for which product or service is required and the qualification or experience of who delivers it.
And whilst people are not instructing their solicitors to issue court proceedings in great numbers (the unregulated businesses can’t do so anyway) but are choosing to mediate or use collaborative law instead, barristers are also feeling the pinch.
Do you need a solicitor? Do you need a barrister? Can you represent yourself? Should you let the large bank/supermarket with the green signs (no SEO help here thank you) explain it all over the phone for more than you are likely to pay either a solicitor or a barrister but they make it all seem so reassuringly honest that you will ignore that small fact.
Even the relationship between barristers and divorce solicitors seems to be heading towards its own irretrievable breakdown. At least if the latest PR by Absolute Barrister in the Times is anything to go by.
They claim to be cheaper and (and basically far cleverer) than solicitors, relying heavily on “historical” information to support this claim. The historical part being over 100 years ago. There is no cost information on their website that I saw and so it is impossible to see what they are likely to charge or whether their website (as at March 2013) claims are in fact comparable to solicitors charges or not.
They claim they can save up to 85% on the fees you would pay a solicitor if you go direct to them. Well of course. And I can save you 100% of your barrister’s fee if I don’t instruct one but do it myself.
There are plenty of other websites making similar claims. It’s all getting a bit messy, a bit too sales-pitch for my liking. And that isn’t good for the client ultimately – wading through pages of information which all looks the same and all claims to be better (far better) than everyone else.
There is a danger that firms (whether barristers, solicitors, banks, supermarkets or unregulated online companies) will exaggerate to attract business. And will not point clients towards solutions which could be in their best interests. For example there is no mention of mediation (as far as I can see, correct me if I’m wrong) on many websites. And yet this is advocated in the overwhelming majority of divorces as cheaper and quicker than the court solution.
If the supermarket with the green signs has its way it will be employing 3000 high street lawyers over the next year or two. Presumably because it will be simultaneously trying to put their previous employers out of business (indirectly and unintentionally of course so as not to affect the brand) by attracting their customers.
Now I know that that is economics and I have no problem with competition, funnily enough. I probably won’t be affected that much personally, having already insulated myself (hopefully) from the worst. Competition is good – when it works.
It strikes me however that in the end, having introduced legislation to open up competition in legal services, we will more than likely end up in a few short years with only the mighty firms and the supermarket with the green signs.
The two arms of the legal profession (solicitors and barristers) will no doubt have to merge at some point as in America and the high street solicitor will all but disappear.
I can’t make my mind up whether any of this is a good thing or not. There is good and bad with the current system.There are some shocking solicitors and barristers out there and also some great ones. Without doubt access to the great ones will become cheaper with time which is a good thing – as long as the great minds of the future don’t all go into dentistry or accountancy instead because law will pay so badly.
But one thing I am sure about is that whilst we now have around 10,500 law firms now in England and Wales, there will be a lot fewer in the future. This means that our legislation to introduce competition will ironically lead to less choice in the end with a few big players setting the fees and making the profit.
Now that’s something to think about.
Author: Nicola Williams Solicitor Mediator
New guidance issued regarding litigants in person. See below taken from
Lord Dyson MR
11 March 2013
When I looked at the copious pictures of Vicky Pryce in the media over the last few days I was reminded of the woman with road rage who was so furious she burnt alive still strapped into her car after she crashed and refused assistance to pull her out of the burning wreck……
And when I read the article by Margaret Cook in the Guardian last weekend I couldn’t help but feel she’d been waiting a long time for another politician’s wife to show herself up even more than she did two decades ago.
Mrs Cook and Mrs Pryce are no different to many other wives. It is, despite what Mrs Cook seems to think, not unusual to be pressured into taking driving points, not unusual to live with someone with a big ego and not unusual to feel absolute fury when, having put up with this for a number of years, the big ego turns out to be in love with someone other than himself/herself…. and it isn’t you.
What irritates me is that Mrs Cook tries to justify her behaviour and that of Mrs Pryce by suggesting that the role of being a politician’s wife is different than that of any other wife; that they are different somehow to everyone else.
She says in her article in the Guardian
“The truth behind the trials of Vicky Pryce hinges on the dynamics of a relationship that few people will understand, having never been there themselves.”
In fact a lot of people will understand. Millions in fact. All of those who are in a relationship with someone or married. If they didn’t understand no one would read about it and she would not be paid to write about it.
How many of us know at least two people (women usually) who have points on their driving licence for speeding offences they did not commit? How many of us completely understand why those women took the points? Surely it was for the same reason as Mrs Pryce. Surely it was to avoid the inconvenience of a husband who was not allowed to drive. Or to avoid a husband losing his job for which he needed a driving licence. It doesn’t make it right but I bet over half of the people reading this know someone in that situation.
What a lot of people fail to understand is how Vicky Price let her pain at the betrayal she suffered result in her receiving an 8 month prison sentence for perverting the course of justice.
Did she not receive advice, from family, friends, lawyers, PR consultants? Or did she just ignore it, so intent was she on revenge?
A year or so ago I sacked a plumber who was working on my extension. It wasn’t pleasant but he wasn’t any good. A month or so later his wife called me and asked me to do her divorce. She added that he abused her regularly.
I was a little taken aback when she explained that she contacted me because she thought, having sacked him, I’d do a better job for her.
Now he was a rubbish plumber but I wasn’t sure he was capable of the things she described and I was relieved to refer her on to someone else as there was a clear conflict of interest.
But the idea that she believed I would want to destroy her husband because of my negative personal experience of his work shocked me. The fact that I didn’t shocked her too.
The urge to take revenge is a normal reaction to pain and suffering. Some people feel it briefly and it passes of its own accord. Others live with it for longer. Fortunately most of us are not in a position where taking revenge is any more than hacking into a facebook account. But the consequences of taking revenge can be serious even if you are not a politician’s wife.
A client of mine once circulated an intimate email sent by his wife to her boss to everyone in the business, amounting to several hundred people. It is fairly common to bag clothes into bin bags and dispose of them, sell golf clubs on ebay, that sort of thing. There are more unusual (and darkly amusing) examples but I can’t say for fear of breaching client confidentiality.
The email I think resulted in dismissal. But none of the above have landed anyone in prison as far as I know. I suppose the most obvious example of circumstances which might do are the spouse who tells the tax man about the wads of cash in the garage or the duplicate set of accounts in the office drawer.
The Proceeds of Crime Act brought a halt to a lot of that I imagine. Lawyers and Accountants are now brought to book if we fail to snitch on clients who have profited from breaking the law. Warnings are clear in Client Care letters. Don’t tell me anything or I will have to inform the authorities and I can’t tell you I have done either.
But Mr Huhne didn’t profit from the driving points fiasco. He was disqualified anyway not long after because he was caught again. And let’s face it the incident which has brought all this about was the fourth time in a year he had been caught speeding, so he deserved to be taken off the roads. Didn’t he?
Mrs Pryce is in prison because in the words of Mr Justice Sweeney
“Once charged, you Vicky Pryce pursued your false defence of marital coercion. In doing so, just as you did in your dealings with the media, you have demonstrated that there is a controlling manipulative and devious side to your nature. However, ultimately, the good sense of the jury saw through you, and you were convicted.”
What has happened to Vicky Pryce is a lesson to us all. To everyone who is slighted, betrayed, devastated by the demise of a marriage.
I can’t find a better quote to end on that that of Douglas Horton,
“While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself.”
is a new approach to legal services. Instead of employing a solicitor to manage all of your case for you – from start to finish- you represent yourself but with help from a solicitor or legal executive when you need it.
You may want help filling in a form. This is generally something a trained legal executive can help you with.
You may want advice on a specific issue. This is something a solicitor can help you with.
You may be able to do all the form filling yourself but just want help at court. This is something either a solicitor or a barrister can help with.
All our traditional bespoke legal services are still available and you may change from pay as you go to full representation at any time.
The traditional way of using or employing as solicitor can be just too expensive for a lot of people – and this is going to get a lot worse from next April when legal aid begins to disappear for the majority of family law cases.
More and more people are turning to the internet for advice and representing themselves because they cannot afford professional help – often with disastrous results.
Our Pay As You Go service is designed to meet a growing need for professional advice within a limited budget.
This service is suitable for you if:
You don’t mind doing some of the work yourself to keep the cost of getting a divorce down.
Just make an appointment to see us to take advice on your Family Law or divorce problem.
We will ask you to fill in a form before you arrive to set out the issues you have and would like advice on.
When you come to the meeting you should expect to pay for the session using your credit/debit card at the end just like you would if you visited the dentist.
We will discuss how we can help you. Sometimes people only need to see us once and can handle the rest of their cases from that point on. Some people take advice from time to time over several weeks or months as and when needed. You decide how often you need to take advice.
You can ask us to do more for you at any time. All we ask is that you give us enough notice of court hearings to enable us to to adequately prepare for it.
We will not undertake any work without agreeing our fees with you.
You only pay for the advice you receive either face to face or over the phone. If you want us to write a letter for you or fill in a form you will only pay for the time it takes us to prepare it. We don’t do any “behind the scenes work” with this service. We don’t deal with the court service or the other solicitor or party in your case.
Our standard hourly rates apply unless we give you a fixed rate for a piece of work.
Our current rate depends on the experience of the fee earner. Work done by a legal executive will cost £25 per twenty minute session plus VAT.
Work done by a Solicitor will cost £50 per twenty minute session plus VAT.
So, for example, if you want to have a 40 minute consultation with a Solicitor, it will cost you £120. Similarly a 40 minute consultation with a legal executive will cost you £60.
We will take some details from you and we will tell you in our opinion which type of fee earner you need to see.
Sometimes, you may need to have a consultation with a Solicitor but then a form you may need completing can be done with the assistance of a legal executive. We will automatically allocate the work to be done to the right fee earner to ensure that you receive the most economical service and we employ our skills appropriately.
Email us to make an appointment – email@example.com
Author: Nicola Williams
From 1st April 2013 you will begin to notice big changes to the legal aid system.
Under the current system anyone on a low income is entitled to 2 hours free legal advice on a range of issues and for divorce this is extended for the petitioner to 3 hours. This used to enable most people on a low income to receive help throughout the divorce procedure.
But all this is about to change.
After 1st April 2013 legal aid will be withdrawn for all but very serious family law cases, involving domestic violence or child abuse.
Legal aid will however still be available for mediation.
How will this affect you and also the services we provide?
We have not ever undertaken legal aid work but we do refer many of our clients to legally aided mediation services. We will continue to be able to do this.
We will not be able to refer most new enquiries to a legal aid practitioner unless there is an element of domestic violence and so instead we will offer one of our cost effective alternatives for divorce proceedings such as our DIY Divorce service and our Online Divorce Service.
We also offer cost effective Pay As You Go legal advice for many of our clients who are representing themselves through court proceedings, whether in connection with the financial aspects of divorce or children disputes.
These services are not just aimed at those people who would have been eligible for legal aid but are a response to a growing need for affordable legal advice services.
We officially introduced our pay as you go legal advice services last year.
Who is it aimed at? Anyone who doesn’t have a spare £10,000 to £20,000 to get divorced – so nearly everyone really.
How does it work?
Unlike a bespoke legal service where we act for a client from start to finish, writing their letters/emails, preparing their documents automatically for them at the correct time, dealing with the court and the other party as and when required, with pay as you go we only do what we are specifically asked to do by the client.
The client is on the court record as acting in person. We help behind the scenes. The cost saving is dramatic and the client is generally happier because not only does this service cost less but he/she remains in control throughout.
In a family law case this is particularly important. Family law is personal. It has far reaching effects long after the court proceedings have ended. It involves people who have no say and no control over what happens in court – the children.
To allow strangers to exert control over how often a child sees a parent or where he/she lives is prone to the risk that what is best for that child will not be achieved. This is especially when the strangers (lawyers) make more money generally from cases where there is continual dispute than from those where agreement is swiftly reached.
It is frequently the parents themselves who are to blame for these protracted and hostile disputes, but the lawyers will never come out of it smelling of roses.
Pay as you go advice reduces the risk of lawyers getting too involved, taking too much responsibility for the future of your family and your children and imposing their own views on how you should manage your arrangements. You need advice not another mother-in-law (or father-in-law).
Lawyers have also come under fire recently for the amount that they charge and for failing to give cost estimates or update them appropriately during a case.
It is never easy to give an accurate cost estimate at the outset of a case. Based on limited details taken from one party (and with no real idea of how difficult or otherwise the other party is going to be) how can we accurately predict how much work we will need to do?
And so what you end up with is a general best and worst case scenario. But since a worst case scenario is likely to scare your client off, these are usually not the really worst case scenario.
Really difficult cases are probably less than 10% of an average case load whilst mildly fed up clients (let’s not forget they are getting divorced, moving out of their homes, surviving for the next few years at least on a fraction of the income they had whilst together) account for probably half to two thirds. The mildly fed up group can generally see the difference between being fed up with their circumstances and with the service they receive. Usually their cost estimates are about right as we calculate estimates based upon the average for the majority – like any other business.
It’s no surprise that the minority of people with really difficult cases end up with higher fees than they anticipate and whilst we have not ever had a formal complaint brought against us about fees, we can understand the figures relating to complaints against divorce lawyers set out in the recent legal ombudsman’s report suggesting that around a quarter were indeed just about fees.
Pay as you go is designed to avoid these issues.
The client is self-representing. There is no need for an overall cost estimate as the client is in control of how far the case proceeds and how often along the way he/she will seek advice or professional document drafting.
The client is charged only for the face to face meeting, or email or letter to them, one item at a time. Work does not build up. Unpaid fees do not mount up. We do not become embroiled in lengthy, often pointless, correspondence with other solicitors.
It is a new way of working and we are still finding our feet. We are also finding that clients like it.
Yes they have to do more of the work themselves but pointed in the right direction they can do this easily as well as a new paralegal. And they are focused and committed to the case and don’t forget where they are up to.
To help our pay as you go clients we have a page on the website dedicated to helping them understand how to make the most of the service.
You can link to it here.
In summary our pay as you go legal advice service is proving popular with clients because it costs less and keeps them in control. For us it is a success because we have better cash flow and we like happier clients.
If you would like to make an appointment or speak to us about the service please call us on 0161 486 5080 or fill in our contact us form which you can find here.